By Bruce McPherson, County Supervisor
This year began like many other years—unpredictable but full of promise. What we experienced, managing twin crises, was a test of our ability to meet the moment and adapt for the future. Although we end 2020 fighting a renewed battle against Covid-19, I see a lot to be optimistic about in 2021 and want to highlight a number of successes from the past year.
We celebrated several community milestones in 2020, including building the new Felton Branch Library and adjacent Felton Discovery Park. We also began renovations on the Boulder Creek Branch Library, which like the Felton branch, was made possible because Measure S passed in 2016.
We continued to repair roads damaged by storms in late 2016 and early 2017, primarily funded through federal sources. Local and state funding from Measure D and Senate Bill 1, approved in 2016 and 2017, respectively, helped us tackle other road improvements and plan for projects, such as the Wildlife Crossing at Laurel Curve on Highway 17 and safety enhancements for Highway 9.
Since my first term in 2013, we have developed the first-ever Complete Streets Master Plan for Highway 9 in cooperation with the Regional Transportation Commission and Caltrans. Improvements seen already include restriping crosswalks, citing flashing pedestrian beacons at key crosswalks, and improving the accessibility of many intersections along Highway 9 for our disabled neighbors.
In 2021, I look forward to Caltrans producing its first comprehensive Project Initiation Document (PID) to identify projects that can be completed through Caltrans’ regular maintenance and road improvement budgets. I am also especially pleased Caltrans is working on a separate PID to build safer pedestrian access from downtown Felton to the combined San Lorenzo Valley Unified Schools campus.
Progress in other important areas includes energy, water and public health and safety.
Monterey Bay Community Power, launched through my office, has become Central Coast Community Energy and now includes 33 jurisdictions across five counties, making it one of the largest community choice energy agencies in California and the one with the highest bond rating. As chair of the Policy Board, I look forward to the next chapter as the agency continues investing millions annually in complementary energy projects.
Meanwhile, the Santa Margarita Groundwater Agency is undertaking very detailed efforts to draft its Sustainable Groundwater Management Plan. Working with two public water districts, private well owners and the County, we are on target to develop a plan by 2022 designed to collectively manage the basin amid climate change.
On the public health and safety front, we continue working collaboratively with the City of Santa Cruz to shelter more people experiencing homelessness and identify new investments in wrap-around services and problem-solving techniques designed to find appropriate and sustainable housing options. With the support of other supervisors, my office also fought to keep the sheriff’s staff assigned to our cannabis enforcement team despite efforts to trim those positions as a result of Covid-19 budget impacts.
Whereas the state primarily drives policy on the pandemic, the County plays a lead role in managing our collective response with the healthcare community on shelter, treatment and testing. We also have driven post-fire recovery by coordinating state and federal programs for debris removal while establishing an expedited permitting process for rebuilding. We continue to monitor the threat of debris flows and coordinate evacuation planning.
This brings me to the watchword for 2021: resiliency.
As the County’s representative to the California State Association of Counties, I support efforts to develop a statewide vegetation management plan to help property owners prepare for future fire seasons. Vegetation management is essential to creating defensible space around homes and businesses, but also to establishing fuel breaks that protect at-risk communities.
Also, the County is looking to update our wireless communication ordinance to cite infrastructure needed to better connect our community for work and school, as well as emergency response. Additional measures will come through the new Office of Response, Recovery and Resiliency, which I helped to establish with Supervisor Ryan Coonerty.
As a community, we need to recognize that fire, debris flows and other climate-related natural disasters will continue and we must be prepared. I am so grateful to the firefighters, law enforcement officers and other emergency responders and essential workers for their incredible dedication to the community during this past year.
Bruce McPherson is the Fifth District Supervisor for the County of Santa Cruz, including the San Lorenzo Valley and parts of the cities of Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Press Banner.